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Can Essential Oils Relieve Anxiety?

The basics

Highlights

  1. Valerian essential oil may help treat insomnia and other related issues.
  2. Bergamot can be helpful for reducing anxiety and stress.
  3. More research is needed to determine the potential effects of these oils.

Essential oils are known for their spiritual and emotional benefits. For thousands of years, people have used essential oils to soothe their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Although research is often limited, many oils have been recognized for their possible health benefits.

These oils are generally extracted from plants through steam distillation or cold pressing. This leaves the oils in their purest form. From there, they can be inhaled, mixed with a carrier oil, and rubbed onto the skin. Or they can be diffused into the air to help improve your quality of life.

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Research

What the research says

Some clinical evidence supports the uses of valerian, lavender, and bergamot essential oils to help with both anxiety and its effects. More research is needed to truly determine the potential efficacy, as well as short- and long-term benefits and risks.

Valerian

Valerian is known to have a calming and grounding effect. It can also help treat insomnia and other anxiety-related issues, such as:

  • nervous stomach
  • rapid heartbeat
  • high blood pressure
  • difficulty concentrating

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a German study examined the long-term effects of using the herb valerian root to ease insomnia. Participants received either 600 milligrams of the root or a placebo for 28 days. They were given questionnaires throughout the study evaluating their ability to sleep well.

At the end of the study, the group receiving valerian reported a greater decrease in insomnia complications than the placebo group. This decrease was only found in days 14 to 28. This suggests that you may need to use valerian for longer periods of time to see its benefits. Though this study is assessing the herb and not the oil, you may experience similar results. But use with caution.

Lavender

This is an herb in the mint family. It’s often used in soaps, lotions, and other cosmetic products. It’s known to help with insomnia, nervousness, and depression.

In a 2014 review from The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers assessed 15 quantitative studies on the inhalation effects of essential oils. They found that research supported using essential oils for enhancing sleep and assisting with mild sleep disturbances. The most commonly used oil was lavender, and no adverse effects were reported.

Bergamot

Bergamot is a plant that produces a type of citrus fruit. The rind is extracted to create an essential oil. It’s known for its antibiotic, antiseptic, and antidepressant properties. One of its most popular applications is as an ingredient in black tea. It’s said to help with blood circulation, thereby improving your energy and mood.

In a 2015 clinical review of bergamot published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, researchers found that therapeutic applications of bergamot can be helpful for reducing both anxiety and stress.

Researchers in a 2013 study found that aromatherapy can help reduce anxiety in people scheduled for surgery. In the study, 109 participants were assigned to use 30 minutes of bergamot via a diffuser or use water vapor as a placebo.

Those who used bergamot showed a higher reduction in preoperative anxiety than the placebo group. Overall, the bergamot group had a significantly decreased heart rate and blood pressure level. The group also self-reported lower anxiety scores using a State Trait Anxiety Inventory.

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Use

How to use essential oils for anxiety

Essential oils are primarily diffused into the air or applied topically. When using topically, you should always dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil.

Be sure to do a skin patch test before applying to a large area of skin. This will allow you to determine whether you will have an allergic reaction to the oil. If you don’t experience any symptoms within 24 hours, it should be safe to use.

You may consider applying diluted valerian essential oil topically on the back of your neck or on the bottoms of your feet. You can also rub lavender essential oil into your temples to calm your mind before you sleep.

For a wider diffusion, drop lavender or bergamot essential oils onto potpourri to allow the scent to spread. You may also diffuse the oils with a humidifier to produce a more powerful scent and allow for greater inhalation.

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Risks and warnings

Risks and warnings

Applying undiluted essential oils to the skin can cause inflammation and irritation. Certain oils, even when diluted, can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. Be sure to wear sunscreen and exercise caution when spending time in the sun.

If you are pregnant or nursing, consult with a doctor before using essential oils. They can cross the placenta and get to the baby or come out in your breast milk. Children should also use caution when using essential oils.

Check out: 7 tips for coping with anxiety during pregnancy »

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Other treatments

Other treatments for anxiety

Anxiety is traditionally treated with therapy and medication. There are a few typical treatment regimens.

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on your thoughts and feelings. Your therapist will work with you to get to the root of the problem and change your thinking patterns in dealing with anxiety.

Exposure therapy confronts your anxiety head-on. The goal is to diminish your feelings of anxiety over time.

Prescription medications for anxiety may help relieve some of your symptoms.

Yoga is often recommended as a complementary therapy. Continued practice can help you relax and calm your mind.

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Takeaway

What you can do now

If you want to begin using essential oils for anxiety, you should first consult your doctor. They can work with you to determine whether this is the best course of action for you, as well as help you weigh the potential benefits and risks.

You can typically find essential oils in health food stores or online. Before purchasing, you should:

  • Become an informed customer. Educate yourself on the type of essential oil you think would best fit your anxiety symptoms.
  • Know that not all essential oils are created equal. These oils aren’t regulated by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so products can vary across manufacturers. Read reviews and look for “therapeutic grade” on the label.
  • Always read up on any side effects. Test the oil out on a small patch of skin or for a short time with a diffuser to see if you have any allergic reactions.

Keep reading: Alternative treatments for anxiety »

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